Posts Tagged ‘Bob Usherwood’

Last week The Telegraph boldly printed the ‘ultimate reading list’.   Billed as ‘the perfect library’, it featured a collection of 110 books ‘that changed the world’.  Reading through the list made me think about a recent opinion piece from Bob Usherwood in the Gazette and my own experiences of stock in public libraries. 

Many of the libraries I’ve visited have adopted elements of the bookshop model to attract more visitors and make the service more relevant to 21st century users.  Some have even rebranded the service entirely

The thing that sticks in my mind most about visiting these ‘libraries’ is the massive collections of mass market paperbacks on display.  Not that there’s anything wrong with pleasing the masses, but where was the rest of the collection?  Tucked away, out of sight perhaps?  Why were other books not enjoying the same exposure as Richard & Judy Bookclub titles?  Why were users being forced to actively seek out books that weren’t lucky enough to make it into last month’s bestsellers lists?  It was easy enough to grab a copy of Jordan’s biography but not quite as easy to retrieve Murakami’s ‘Wind Up Bird Chronicle’ or Orwell’s ‘1984’. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for popular / contemporary fiction; if truth be told, I’ve never really been a fan of the classics (I know, I know, bad librarian)!  But the problem, as I see it, is in striking the right balance.  All too often, it seems that popular fiction takes precedence over everything else.  Given that performance indicators and evaluations (external and internal) are still mainly quantitative, I can see why many services are stocking up on titles that will deliver higher issue figures.  But what’s the long term impact of such a  strategy?  Usherwood suggests that:

“If the public library is not going to provide a superior selection of novels than that to be found in the local supermarket, or more accurate sources of information than the tabloid press, how can it justify public funding?”  (Usherwood, 2007, p. 73)

Yes, the future, it’s certainly worth thinking about, don’t you agree?


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Although slightly off-topic I think that the views expressed by Hollywood actor Kevin Spacey earlier this week are somewhat relevant to my research into the social value of public libraries. 

Bias at the BBC?

Spacey claims that the BBC has shown “unfair” bias towards West End musicals produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber, failing to grant similar prime time exposure to other west end shows.  To be honest, I hadn’t really thought about how the BBC might be abusing its position as public broadcaster to promote “The Sound of Music”, “Joseph” and more recently “Oliver”, over other lower budget productions, such as those currently playing at the Old Vic Theatre.

But after reading Spacey’s comments it reminded me of something  Bob Usherwood observed in his brilliant book, “Equity and Excellence in the Public Library“:

“Like the BBC, public libraries also face competition from new technologies, commercial imperatives and, some would suggest, changing public attitudes” (Usherwood, 2007, p.3).

Unfair promotion? 

Similar to public libraries, the BBC as a public broadcaster, has a huge responsibility within our society to present a fair and balanced television schedule; and one that does not produce a weekly 90 minute ‘prime time’ platform to promote one specific musical over another. 

The BBC have fought back stating that “they have no commercial interest” in these musicals, but what about us…the ‘Great British Public’?  If we’re all stakeholders in the BBC where’s our share of Lloyd Webber and Cameron Macintosh’s ticket sales?   

Shame on the BBC for exploiting the trust of its viewers!

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